Detailed system and semiconductor demand analysis for in-vehicle infotainment, telematics and vehicle-device connectivity features.

July 25, 2014 18:30 rlanctot

Everyone tells me usage-based insurance (UBI) – car insurance based on your driving behavior – is already a huge market, rapidly growing, taking the industry by storm… take your pick. I am not buying it, although I am using it.

I participate in State Farm’s Drive Safe and Save Program in the U.S. The program requires the installation of an on-board diagnostic device in the OBDII port. (That’s my driving assessment appended to this report with the savings displayed above – with the “potential” savings available if I could just drive a little better.)

The companies that make the devices, the companies that process the data, and the carriers that provide the service all tell me there is monster growth in UBI. I believe them. Because what they are seeing is massive growth on a tiny base. So the growth will look very big indeed for the next few years.

But my own experience with usage-based insurance is that it is a little like sub-prime auto lending, which sometimes uses electronic modules on cars to enforce payment plans on credit-challenged customers. (These programs are usually referred to as “buy-here-pay-here” and include vehicle immobilizer technology to corral deadbeats.) It is a niche market with a significant "ick" factor.

UBI is best suited to drivers who simply can’t get a decent insurance rate without surrendering some privacy. In the UK, this is confined mainly though not exclusively to young drivers, for whom rates are exorbitant. UBI has also benefited in the UK from tagging along with anti-fraud devices and in Italy on anti-theft devices.

Every time I visit a client or speak at an industry event – including gatherings of State insurance commissioners - I ask the members of the audience if anyone is participating in a UBI offer. The answer is a universal “No!” So the industry that is promoting this technology is turning up its nose at the opportunity.

This needs to change if UBI is ever going to enter the mainstream. A friend of mine talks about “eating your own dog food” and that is precisely what needs to happen here. If UBI is to succeed, every broker and manager in the business needs to get a device on their vehicle right away.

Brokers need to understand:

1) How the devices are installed

2) What the data looks like

3) How the data does and does not change

4) How the data impacts the discounts

5) And what the discounts actually are

This is not happening in the industry today. My service is up for renewal with State Farm and my confused questions have gone unanswered at a variety of touch points. It is tempting, but not worth it to go into the details and, no, I did not record my conversation with the multiple agents with whom I spoke – tempting though it was.

The insurance industry wants everyone, as in EVERYONE, to be connected and tracked and evaluated. By tracking drivers insurers expect to be able to underwrite auto insurance more accurately.

Conventional wisdom in the industry is that adverse selection – ie. the rejection of customers for insurance coverage based on their electronically tracked driving behavior – will ultimately force all non-tracked customers into some sort of auto insurance purgatory. I say: “Nonsense.”

The most creative discount offers today are still coming from non-tracked offers that do not require any expensive hardware, software or Web portals. And too many customers simply can’t get past the “ick” factor inherent in tracking. It is a prospect killer – when it actually ought to be generating prospects.

What’s missing is trust and transparency. According to the pictured evaluation of my own driving, if I were to attain an A+ rating in all six driving categories I could more than double my discount. The only problem is…I have no idea what I am doing wrong and no means to find out.

Until insurance companies can find a way to instill trust with greater transparency and convince the brokers and agents to participate in the programs, UBI will remain a niche market and an insurance industry pipe dream. The creepiness of placing a tracking device on your car is hard to overcome, but the opportunity to develop more accurate risk models and underwriting schemes ought to be motivation enough to fix this.

Here is my recipe for UBI success:

A) Pay the customer to install the device

B) Install the device for the customer

C) Provide an on/off switch (within set time parameters)

D) Provide specific driving instructions as to how to improve driver ratings (and discounts)

Until these requirements are met, the UBI market will remain simultaneously huge and invisible.

July 24, 2014 16:08 rlanctot

Ford’s Mark Fields started 2014 with the announcement of aluminum-bodied F-150s and, following his appointment as CEO, has doubled down on the fuel efficiency message with the announcement of the hiring of Dr. Ken Washington, a top researcher out of Lockheed Martin’s space program.  Washington will head Ford’s advanced research and engineering efforts bringing experience in “light-weighting, (powertrain) control, autonomy and energy storage” to Ford, as highlighted in a brief interview with Strategy Analytics earlier this week.

The move coincided with a shift of Kumar Gulhotra, current vice president of engineering for Ford and Lincoln, to global president of Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand.

Washington was most recently vice president of the Space Technology Advanced Research & Development Laboratories, or STARLabs, at Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems company.  He is expected to accelerate innovation at Ford and will report to Raj Nair, group vice president, global product development.  Washington’s background spans nuclear engineering, information systems, supercomputing, information privacy and R&D regarding space-related technologies.

All indications suggest that the announcement revolves around Ford’s ability to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards set by the U.S. government.  Washington’s boss, Nair, was quoted at the North American International Auto Show saying that Ford intends to double its global hybrid offerings by the end of the decade and expand auto start/stop to 70% of its cars.

Start/stop is already part of the plan for the 2015 F-150, shown earlier this week.  While Ford did not release its MPG estimates for the new F-150s, it did show a 732-lb. weight reduction from the use of aluminum, a surprisingly high figure.

The F-150 has always dragged down Ford’s corporate average fuel economy.  However, in January it claimed that the improved fuel economy of the new model will mean that for the first time the truck will help raise Ford’s overall fuel economy figure.  Ford has also had to restate the MPG of its hybrid models, as consumers complained of not being able to attain the originally claimed fuel economy levels.  So far, only the C-MAX, Focus and Fusion/MKZ have HEV/PHEV/EV versions.

It remains to be seen whether Lincoln will move toward a luxury HEV offering to take on Lexus or a more ambitious full EV to compete with Tesla.  The shift of Gulhotra and the hiring of Washington suggest that Ford is focused on fuel economy, electrification and autonomous driving, precisely in that order – even as it prepares to embed modems in its non-electric vehicles.

July 23, 2014 15:57 rlanctot

"So I think we are making some really good progress on the autopilot side, and I am confident that in less than a year you will be able to go from highway on ramps to highway exits without touching any controls." - Elon Musk, CEO, Tesla Motors

Consumers are clearly ambivalent about self-driving cars and electric propulsion. Multiple consumer surveys show significant resistance to autonomous vehicles, and enthusiasm for electric vehicles, aside from Tesla’s Model S, has been muted.

That’s why we need Tesla and Google. Like Henry Ford, Elon Musk does not make decisions based on consumer surveys, and Google pursues its own ideas about transportation and location awareness beyond the tyranny of the focus group or the legal department.

If left to its own devices, the auto industry will study electrification and autonomy to death on the test track without ever bringing an autonomous vehicle (and only a few electric vehicles) to the highway. Nissan, General Motors, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and BMW are all pushing hard at the concept of electric vehicles, but the progress has been incremental to date.

Tesla, meanwhile, is making the big bets on “gigafactories” and fast charging stations and shared patents. It is worth noting that BMW is trying to be a fast follower on the electrification front offering to share its battery technology Tesla-like. And Nissan is trying to match Tesla with the breadth of its charging station installations.

On the autonomous vehicle front, auto supplier Continental has highlighted the fact that legal and regulatory frameworks including the Vienna Convention and UN-ECE regulations continue to block the path of autonomous vehicle adoption by placing legal barriers in the way of precursor technologies such as traffic jam assist and emergency steering assist.

As reported in ITS International: “Article 8 of the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic specifies that the driver must maintain permanent control of the vehicle. This limitation was amended, however, in March 2014 in response to the increasing automation of vehicle systems. Automated systems are now permitted as long as they can be overridden or deactivated by the driver. This has established the legal foundation for partially automated driving since control of the vehicle may now essentially be assumed by systems as well.”

Aside from the fact that the Convention has not been ratified by all parties, the modification is absurd. In essence, it says automation is only allowed as long as it can be de-activated or overridden. This is entirely contrary to the mission of automated driving, which is to remove the 90% of accidents attributable to the driver, according to industry experts.

Further, this regulation focuses on so-called Level 3 automation (see definition below) under which the driver must always be prepared to take control. This is precisely the self-driving scenario that car makers are struggling with if not outright avoiding – and one that Google is embracing,

Also as reported by ITS International: “The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) offers regulation (UN-R 79:Uniform Provisions Concerning the Approval of Vehicles with regard to Steering Equipment). According to this regulation, automated steering is currently only permitted up to a speed of as high as 10 km/h.”

Once again, this regulatory authority is out of step with reality. Continental is correct. Both the Vienna Convention and UN-ECE regulations reflect a complete disregard for the facts on the ground.

In the highlighted quote at the beginning of this commentary Elon Musk, speaking at the latest Tesla shareholders meeting in response to a question says that Tesla believes drivers should be able to go from on-ramp to exit-ramp without touching the vehicle controls. Now, he did not say that Tesla will offer this capability, but what he did say was that this ought to be possible.

The most logical scenarios for automated driving will be parking, low-speed collision avoidance, and high speed highway driving. For its part Google is focusing on Level 3 autonomous driving scenarios which include all of the above and assume, at least for current Google cars, some driver participation.

As defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S., Level 3 Limited Self-driving Automation is defined as:

“Vehicles at this level of automation enable the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions and in those conditions to rely heavily on the vehicle to monitor for changes in those conditions requiring transition back to driver control. The driver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time. The Google car is an example of limited self-driving automation.”

Car makers and their suppliers are leery of this Level 3 driving proposition, but Google is plunging forward. We need a Google to explore this space, because no level of market research, focus groups or number crunching will overcome the internal legal and liability objections of a typical car maker to explore Level 3 with cars on the road.

We need Tesla to prove out the concept of an attractive EV capable of being brought to mass market price points. Tesla is still working on this. In the words of Musk:

“The ground strategy at Tesla has always been a three step process where step one was little volume, high price product with the Roadster then we've got mid volume mid to high price car with the Model S and then generation three being the high volume lower cost car. And with Gen 3 with our third car, we're expecting that to be about a $35,000 car with a range in excess of 200 miles.

“But I should say that 35,000 may sound a little affordable, but when you consider the savings from use of electricity versus gasoline in the U.S. that translates effectively to like a gasoline car of about maybe $28,000 or in Europe gasoline car of about $22,000 to $24,000. So actually the affordability of it should be quite high, I am very optimistic about that and we're going to try to make that third generation car happen as soon as we possibly can.”

We need Google to prove out the Level 3 use case. Without the legal framework that Continental has requested, on behalf of the industry, getting Level 3 past the lawyers will be asking too much.

July 21, 2014 17:07 rlanctot

There is a spooky statistical confluence in the U.S. between highway fatalities and deaths resulting from gun violence (homicides and suicides, combined). Both figures hover around 30,000, or about 100/day.

And just as the world is treated to the U.S.’s perennial debate over the merits and nature of gun control, the auto industry is now grappling with the question of surrendering vehicle control to a computer. In fact, those socialist-leaning Europeans have even broached the subject of governmental remote control of cars (Telegraph report: which actually aligns with Brazil’s delayed anti-theft mandate for vehicle immobilization.

It all reminds me of the late Charlton Heston (pictured, from "Omega Man"), five-term president of the National Rifle Association (1998-2003), who made famous the bumper sticker slogan “from my cold dead hands” as in "I'll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands."

It appears that cars are second only to guns as a symbol of freedom and control - at least in the U.S. When surveyed by Strategy Analytics, only a minority of respondents express interest in owning or paying for self-driving cars. In fact, the paying for part will probably be the greatest obstacle as the price tag for autonomous driving is likely to remain in the thousands of dollars for the foreseeable future.

Pair the high cost with the inclination of consumers to preserve their access to freedom and control and you have two solid nearly impenetrable barriers to autonomous vehicle adoption. The U.S. consumer is essentially saying a la Charlton Heston – “you’ll get the steering wheel when you pry it from my cold dead hands.”

And now Google wants to take away the steering wheel and the brake pedals (New York Times report:

So whether it’s the government (and not just the U.S. government) or Google, more and more organizations are interested in wresting control of the car away from the driver. This is aside from the plans being laid for “intelligent” highways that will take control of cars and the wave of interest growing in pay-per-use vehicle taxation.

But drivers can be expected to fight for their rights.

Call it an aphrodisiac. Call it a hallucinogen. Whatever you call it, the driving experience is intoxicating and drivers can be expected to fight to preserve their freedom from control. (Just imagine Germany surrendering its Autobahn network, nein!) Getting drivers to change their behavior and attitudes will require some sophisticated combination of coercion and temptation – even after the technology becomes sufficiently inexpensive. One thing is clear, we won’t surrender meekly.

July 18, 2014 12:09 rlanctot

The time has finally arrived to privatize the safety testing activities of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and to shift the funding model of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety away from the insurance industry. Here’s why.

Thatcham Research in the UK and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are nearly identical organizations founded with nearly identical missions:

“The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries and property damage — from crashes on the nation's roads.” - IIHS Website

“Thatcham Research is the motor insurers’ automotive research centre. Established by the motor insurance industry in 1969, the centre’s main aim is to contain or reduce the cost of motor insurance claims whilst maintaining safety standards.” - Thatcham Website

Both organizations help to set safety standards and can ostensibly be held accountable to one degree or another for the rate of highway fatalities in the respective countries. This is a vast oversimplification, but it is intended to call attention to the fact that in the U.S. we are slaughtering approximately 100 people a day on our highways while in the U.K., as of 2010 and according to World Health Organization estimates, about 7 people are dying per day.

To be sure, every fatality is a tragedy and the United Nations is in the midst of its “Decade of Action for Road Safety” while Sweden has adopted “Vision Zero.” Even the newly-elected Mayor of New York has set a goal of zero pedestrian fatalities for the city.

But the shocking truth is that the U.S. is failing badly in preventing highway fatalities. The U.S. has long been a “leader” in killing people with cars, only recently surpassed by Brazil (as a result of a booming auto market and lax safety standards). The difference between the U.S. and the U.K. is just as stark as the difference between the U.S. and Brazil, where the fatality rate is 22 deaths per 100,000 population annually as of 2010.

Of course, the difference between the U.S. and Brazil is more obvious from the standpoint of the quality of the cars and the roads. But an even bigger difference is that the U.S. has a significant safety testing and certification infrastructure that Brazil lacks.

But the safety testing infrastructure in the U.S. is failing. While Thatcham in the U.K. is a powerful advocate for vehicle safety systems – currently pushing for a government subsidy to support the purchase of new cars equipped with automatic emergency braking technology – IIHS offers nothing more than brochures and Website resources. And IIHS executives insist they have nothing to do with lobbying legislators.

The difference between Thatcham and IIHS is that Thatcham goes so far as to quantify the societal benefits of safety system adoption based on its own testing. In fact, Thatcham has taken up the banner of vehicle safety and carried it to international forums to promote its cause of collision avoidance globally.

Says Thatcham on its Website: “Around 23 per cent of new cars on sale today have AEB available as optional or standard fit. Insurers recognise the benefits, with AEB-fitted cars given a rating of as much as five groups lower than their counterparts, and potentially saving up to 10 per cent on insurance premiums.”

Thatcham goes further, stating on its Website:

  • 90 per cent of road crashes are due to human error or distraction
  • £90,000 - total cost of the average injury crash
  • 18% reduction in third party injury claims for AEB-fitted cars
  • 550,000 whiplash claims annually in the UK cost £2B, adding £90 to the average car insurance premium
  • 23% of new cars on sale today have AEB as optional or standard fit
  • Less than 10% cars sold have AEB specified
  • Regulation or Government incentive of £500 needed to accelerate take up

So Thatcham tells the safety story in terms of both societal and consumer financial benefits. IIHS steers clear of suggesting or promoting insurance discounts for safety systems. In fact, more often than not, IIHS either avoids the insurance premium savings conversation entirely or seems to go out of its way to avoid endorsing new technologies as potential life savers – based on the ambiguous findings of its own safety tests – ie. the test outcomes were unclear therefore we cannot endorse technology X.

A typical example comes from IIHS's testing of Volvo safety systems: "This initial analysis of the effect on insurance claims of 4 crash avoidance features, 2 of which are combinations of multiple features, suggests that they are helping drivers avoid some crashes reported to insurers. However, except in the case of Volvo’s steering-responsive headlights, the estimated benefits are not statistically significant. Volvo’s Active Bending Lights reduce PDL claim frequency as well as BI claim frequency, but there was not a corresponding reduction in collision claim frequency."

In other words, you, Mr. Consumer, may as well not bother with these safety systems because they won't save you a nickel on your premium.

It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that better discounts for safety systems can be found in Europe than in the U.S. And it should also come as no surprise that annual highway fatality rates are almost universally and substantially lower in Europe, with a few exceptions.

Some insurers in the U.S. will offer discounts for some safety systems. But the dominant rating scheme in the U.S. is to focus almost exclusively on the driver and such rating factors as driving history and education, including driver education.

It is true that the roads and the cars and the rules are different in Europe, but the vastly lower fatality rates are hard to ignore. As with so many areas where the U.S. lags – education, healthcare, etc. – we spend more on road safety and get less benefit.

There are two problems with the automotive safety testing regime in the U.S. The pre-eminent safety authority for setting standards and issuing mandates is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA is led by political appointees hamstrung by limited funding options and staffed with engineers buffeted by changing regulatory priorities.

Currently NHTSA is more than five years into a shift in its mission from surviving accidents to preventing them altogether. This shift in focus ought to have produced a complete revamp and re-staffing of the organization to address the modified technical demands of the new mission. Needless to say, the limitations of NHTSA being a government agency prevented any such sea change.

IIHS, too, is hamstrung by its funding model and its own perception of its role. The institute is a non-profit funded by the insurance industry. This puts IIHS in the awkward position of conducting safety research and assigning safety scores for the automotive industry, while its fundamental objective is seeing to the priorities and concerns of the insurance industry – which may conflict with the concerns of both car makers and consumers.

(It is worth noting that apart from IIHS’s research activities, individual insurers in the U.S. do conduct outreach directly with car makers to advise on the construction of cars to enhance safety and reduce the costs of repairs. These activities, which directly relate to Thatcham’s vehicle repair research and protocol development efforts in the U.K., are worthy and ought to continue.)

The government and the insurance industry need to be removed from the safety testing and standards setting activity, which ought to be funded by the industry. Government oversight may be an appropriate role, but not direct government management. The recent spate of recalls including the very public Toyota and GM recall controversies have demonstrated clearly that NHTSA lacks the necessary expertise or the funding necessary to acquire it.

With 100 Americans dying on the highways every day it is clear that we, as a country, can no longer depend on the government or the insurance industry to solve this problem. Vehicle safety should be put into the hands of independent commercial interests charged and evaluated on the basis of protecting consumers and saving lives. We are fighting a war and the body count is rising.

July 4, 2014 15:18 rlanctot

I take the title of my blog from the Philip K. Dick science fiction novel upon which the movie "Blade Runner" was based. One element of the movie is bounty hunter Rick Deckard's (Harrison Ford) effort to retire six escaped Nexus-6 brain model androids. In the process he explores what it is to be human and the lack of empathy of the androids.

Google, too, lacks empathy in its single-minded advance on multiple operating environments - mobile, wearable, automotive - with little regard for the application requirements of each space. Google announced Android Auto at Google-I/O last week and later revealed further details.

The latest report from Ars Technica is that Google wants to control elements of the Android Auto UI. In the words of "Google tells Ars Technica that it will maintain sole (official) control over the interface for all three new platforms, rather than give that power to manufacturers. While companies will be allowed branding and extra services, they won't get to modify the core experience. You won't see a Gear Live sequel with the Gear 2's front end, for example, or find your way around town with a Honda-exclusive take on Android Auto."

Full story:

There are those who question whether Android should be considered an operating system - some call it nothing more than Linux with a Dalvik virtual machine running Java apps - but now it looks as if Google wants Android to be an app. Only an app supplier would concern itself with UI issues.

The last time an OS supplier tried to manhandle the UI part of the stack it contributed to creating a mass market for desktop computers. Of course, this applies to both Apple and the Mac and Microsoft and the PC.

(It is worth noting that Microsoft was never successful in getting multiple car companies to adopt a single UI. But Microsoft and Nuance - with Ford SYNC - did help Ford create a consistent, brand-defining UI experience across multiple car models.)

Cars are different. No two car makers have ever taken identical paths to implementing in-vehicle platforms for content acquisition and consumption. The UI in every car is unique. It is one of the defining and maddening aspects of the automotive industry.

Since Google lacks empathy it is unable to grasp this fundamental element of the automotive industry. In cars, screens are all different sizes - if they are there at all - and interfaces include voice, touch, hardware controllers, and steering wheel buttons and switches. In-vehicle interfaces are inextricably tied to branding. One need look no further than the hardware controllers of Audi, BMW, Lexus, Honda, Infiniti, Mazda and Mercedes.

Even Pandora, which is one of the most rigidly prescriptive automotive app developers, allows its app to be rendered differently across multiple car makers. When iBiquity entered the market with HD Radio, it stayed out of the UI debate - though later offering suggested implementations.

Perhaps the only company that has thus far gotten away with any sort of UI requirement is Sirius XM, which is rendered in nearly identical fashion in most cars - though making allowances for different UI strategies from car maker to car maker.

Google's dream of delivering a consistent experience across multiple car makers is just another indication of how out of touch the company really is. Rather than offering support for the UI development effort that will be required to implement Android Auto or providing suggested UI best practices, the company appears determined to shove some sort of one-size-fits-all solution on the industry.

Like its power consumption shortcomings and slow boot time, the UI requirements are a meaningless distraction. There is no question that Google Automotive link will be different from car to car - just as CarPlay and Pandora are different in each car.

The real point of failure, though, the difference between Google and Apple is that Google won't invest in the army of evangelists necessary to indoctrinate consumers in car company booths at trade shows or even in dealerships. Only Apple understands the importance of direct customer engagement and has demonstrated the willingness to commit the resources to directly engage consumers. Just another case of Google being asleep at the wheel. Dream on, Google. Dream on.

July 2, 2014 08:48 kli

Jointly sponsored by Chinese Satellite Navigation Office (CSNO), Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation, Russian Federal Space Agency and GLONASS Union, China-Russia Satellite Navigation Cooperation Roundtable was held in Harbin on June 30, 2014.


Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation and Wang Yang, Deputy Prime Minister of China delivered the speech. In Dmitry Rogozin's speech, LBS, insurance and ERA-GLONASS (Russian eCall based on GLONASS system) were emphasized as the important elements of a car, Rogozin also expressed the cooperation willingness between GLONASS and Beidou in joint manufacturing and GNSS products development and market promotion. Then Wang yang expressed the support attitude, emphasized on the identification of the direction of cooperation and prioritizing the cooperation projects.


Afterwards, the two Deputy Prime Ministers witnessed the memorandum of understanding signing ceremony for Satellite navigation cooperation between CSNO and GLONASS Union.


It is believed that building Beidou or GLONASS Monitoring stations in Russia or in China, researching and developing navigation equipment and manufacturing navigation devices are listed in the MoU.


By Strategy Analytics' observation, three Beidou monitoring stations will be built in west, middle and east of Russia, accordingly, three GLONASS monitoring stations will be built in Changchun, Urumqi and another place in 2014.


As of Q1, 2014, Beidou/GPS dual mode navigation modules reached 2 million+ sales volume. In particular in vehicle aspect, 300k+ transport vehicles have installed aftermarket Beidou compatible devices, 200k+ Beidou compatible devices have been adopted in OEM and aftermarket sectors in private vehicles.


Prior to the Roundtable, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced in June 1 that Russia has started to block the military functions of U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) base stations on its territory and might start dismantling them from September 1 as a response to Washington's anti-Russia sanctions and its refusal to plant GLONASS ground base stations on the U.S. territory (Refer to: ). According to Strategy Analytics' understanding, Totally 11 GPS base stations have been terminated and might be dismantled in three months.

June 26, 2014 11:33 rlanctot

Among actor Michael McDonald's more unusual credits is the role of "Stuart" on the television program Mad TV. Stuart is a precocious child of indeterminate physical or mental age who insists on getting the attention of family members and friends by performing meaningless tricks. (An example - apologies in advance for anyone who is easily offended - warning, adult male sort of dancing in underwear:

In the automotive industry we are currently afflicted with tech giants Apple and Google more or less engaged in similar behavior attempting to extend their mobile franchises into the dashboard - because they can. In other words, neither Apple nor Google is doing anything especially remarkable or groundbreaking and, therefore, fall in the category of: "Look what I can do!" (This is the statement "Stuart" makes as he dances pointlessly.)

Google launched Google Automotive Link today, following Apple's CarPlay launch by a few months. Google asserts that cars using its new solution will be hitting the road before the end of the year. The company also noted the participation and support of 40 car makers and suppliers representing 25 brands. That should also sound familiar (see CarPlay launch).

GAL is nearly identical in appearance and performance to Apple's CarPlay. Of course no one dares to question Apple's, Google's automotive cred because, after all, we're talking about Google and Apple. No one wants to be caught out on the wrong side of either of these two heavyweights.

So, allow me.

What Google did not want to talk about today were Android's challenges regarding boot time and power consumption, two significant deficits of great concern to auto makers once Google decides to bring Android into the dashboard and not merely enable smartphone integration. (At least Apple has steered clear of any intention to embed its software in cars.) Google also did not want to talk about National Highway Traffic Safety Administration user interface guidelines or any other globally relevant automotive UI limitations.

Also missing was a description of Google's API strategy and Google also glossed over the fact that the voice recognition solution on offer is hosted and therefore dependent on a wireless connection. In fact, this same limitation is shared by CarPlay. (Again, at least Apple has shown some awareness of this shortcoming with the recent acquisition of Novauris which may enable on-handset recognition in the car.)

So, what Google and Apple have demonstrated is that they can do exactly what Abalta, and Airbiquity, and Luxoft, and Harman, and OpenCar, and UIE, and Nuance, and Bosch, and RealVNC have already done - integrate smartphones in cars. Maybe this is just some bizarre form of Silicon Valley attention-getting deficit disorder.

The automotive industry cannot afford to ignore Google and Apple. They both have important technological contributions to make. But sometimes they are just dancing in their underwear.

A slightly more serious discussion of the marketing issues at stake is available here: - Google: An Offer the Auto Industry Can't Refuse

June 21, 2014 18:00 rlanctot

Okay, I'll admit it. I was one of many that praised Waze for its clever use of crowd sourced traffic information to create an application that attracted millions of users and a billion dollars, from Google. I have saluted Waze as a disrupter of the traffic information industry. And I have recognized its contribution to moving traffic technology forward by calling attention to the transformational role that mobile apps can play in the traffic industry.

Well, after a Friday ride along with WTOP's traffic and weather director Jim Battagliese I can honestly say Google overpaid for Waze.  And it is no surprise that Waze is now knocking on the doors of radio and television broadcasters and state DOTs looking for incident data.  Waze has discovered what competitors such as INRIX, HERE and TomTom already knew - you need detailed, accurate and reliable incident data to create a viable traffic business. 

I did not set out on the ride along to conduct a scientific analysis of Waze's traffic reporting and I have a large number of industry associates and friends who regularly advise me of the usefulness of Waze for avoiding speed traps and red-light cameras - along with the accuracy of the application's traffic flow and incident reports. But time and again during a 3+ hour afternoon drive in Washington, DC, Waze regularly failed to identify local traffic conditions accurately.

Waze was not alone in this failure. TomTom, too, repeatedly failed to reproduce real-time traffic conditions and fell victim to the classic rendering of traffic information on mobile devices that appears to be nothing better than guesswork, as opposed to a refined and scientific rendering of traffic reality.

The importance of "getting it right" was brought home to me as Jim happened upon two traffic incidents and got actively involved in assisting the drivers. The steps included:

  • Parking the yellow WTOP van with its flashing emergency lights in a protective, high profile position upstream from the disabled vehicle
  • Alerting the radio station of the incident and its impact on traffic
  • Donning a reflective vest and assessing the condition of the vehicle and its occupants
  • Alerting the station to the on-scene status and any need for emergency assistance
  • Directing traffic, as necessary
  • Briefing arriving emergency responders or service providers
  • Updating the station on traffic impacts during the process of clearing the incident

Traffic apps routinely identify incidents late, fail to deliver timely updates of the processing of the scene while it is in progress, and then fail to accurately identify the point at which traffic has returned to free flow and the incident is clear. It was truly amazing to observe the reporting of the incidents in the TomTom and Waze apps as the scenes were being processed. It was clear from the timing that both apps were dependent on the reports coming from WTOP.

I learned a lot from the ride along:

  1. Radio stations and their traffic spotters are often the first to report traffic incidents
  2. Passing motorists do not always call 911 when they pass breakdowns or accidents
  3. There are a lot of moving parts to processing a vehicle breakdown or accident
  4. Reporting and interpreting traffic information is complex and difficult work

There is a reason WTOP pays as much attention as it does to traffic information - it is the single biggest draw for the radio station, followed closely by weather. In fact, the importance of traffic and weather colors the choice of news stories reported on WTOP, which frequently features traffic and transportation related stories.

WTOP already benefits from the traffic-reporting (ie. crowd-sourcing) support of its listeners, but is now putting together a program to reward and recognize traffic reporters - details to come. The station is also looking into creating a mobile app of its own.

Waze is not getting the traffic right in the DC area - or at least it was not on the day of my drive - in spite of claiming to have more than 11,000 "Wazers" in the area using and sharing data with the app. It is clearly not a numbers game. WTOP has listeners calling in traffic reports regularly during rush hour - too many to answer them all. What's missing is the wisdom to turn the inputs of the crowd into accurate, actionable information.

The idea of crowd-sourced traffic information has always been a part of broadcast radio traffic reporting - going all the way back to Shadow Traffic's days in the New York City market when spotters were spying on traffic patterns using binoculars from the World Trade Center. Even today, municipalities such as Sao Paulo have traffic spotters on street corners and on tall buildings trying to understand real-time traffic conditions.

The message is clear - all traffic is local and all traffic requires observation. But crowd-sourced information is worthless without the interpretive genius of what Jim Battagliese calls a "traffic geek."

One thing an app (like a local version of Waze) will enable is a more personalized traffic reporting experience. Waze provides a personalized experience but without local expertise. With Waze there is breadth with no interpretive depth.

Traffic information broadcasters have depth but will always struggle to simultaneously satisfy all of their listeners 90% of whom don't care about 90% of the traffic information they are getting. WTOP is unique in that it provides two minutes of information in each of its "on-the-8's" broadcasts - significantly more than most in the industry.

Crowd-sourced information in the hands of a traffic geek is priceless and powerful. One of WTOP's chief rivals, WAMU, produces its traffic reports remotely, but the reports are voiced by uber traffic geek Jerry Edwards. Jerry may be working from Florida, but the camera feeds, incident reports and flow data paint a very different picture for him than they would to an unpracticed eye.

Waze has the right idea in crowd-sourcing its traffic data - and the app is invaluable to millions of users and fans - but it cannot replace the insight of a local traffic geek. Waze wants to tap into the radio industry's traffic geeks and has spoken with WTOP after first tying up with the local Fox television franchise two years ago. Waze knows the power of broadcast to extend the reach of its brand after its roaring success combating Carmaggedon in Los Angeles three years ago.

But television doesn't do much for Waze beyond promoting its brand and networks have plenty of alternatives to Waze including Clear Channel Total Traffic and Weather's SigAlert, Radiate, newcomer GeoTraffic and INRIX.  For radio traffic broadcasters the Waze conversation is a non-starter.

WTOP hopes to leverage the wisdom of the crowd and the sophistication of the traffic geek into its own app later this year. There is no question that traffic information broadcasters around the world are looking at launching their own apps. While these broadcasters will not want to distract listeners from the over the air signal - they will want to protect their local traffic franchise. Broadcasters know that traffic information sells - just ask Waze.
























June 17, 2014 23:49 rlanctot

At an International Motor Press Association luncheon in New York City today GlobalAutomakers President and CEO John Bozzella noted that questions were being raised as to how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) might raise the additional $18M budgeted for FY2015 vehicle safety research.  Bozzella said that options on the table included a per-vehicle tax or fee to be paid by consumers or a similar tax or fee to be paid by car makers.  When asked, by this analyst, Bozzella said that he was not aware of any discussion of privatizing NHTSA or any of its functions.

I had asked the question because I believe it is time to consider the privatization option.

NHTSA's FY 2015 budget request totals $851M and includes $152M for vehicle safety research (an $18M increase), $122M for behavioral safety and $577M for state grants and high visibility enforcement support. In light of the rash of recalls blanketing the auto industry, there will be calls for additional funding for safety research. Given the embarrassing revelations implicating NHTSA's inadequate review, research and enforcement of its own safety standards vis-a-vis General Motors in the recent and still unfolding ignition switch recall, now looks like a good time to remove the government from the business of setting and enforcing safety standards.

Further oversight, research and testimony will be required before NHTSA is fully and formally exonerated of any wrong-doing as part of the ignition switch recall, but the fact that the agency is implicated at all in failing to identify the problem and initiate action suggests it is time for a change.  It also recalls the agency's admission of its inability to diagnose the Toyota sudden acceleration case of two years ago.

All indications are that the functional demands of safety research have transcended the agency's ability to keep up and adequately protect the public.  It is time for the government to recognize this fact and rather than throwing good money after bad - shift the safety research functions of the agency to the private sector where the expertise already resides.

This is a particularly important step to take as the automotive safety segment shifts to active from passive safety - requiring an entirely new analytical skill set for divining whether new technologies have prevented accidents - ie. proving a negative.  New skills require new strategies for studying and promoting the adoption of life-saving technologies.  NHTSA is not ever likely to have sufficient resources to keep pace with automotive industry innovation.

Of course, this is a radical concept - so I throw it open to you, the reader.  Is there any good reason for NHTSA to retain its safety investigative, standards-setting and enforcement responsibilities?  What do you think?